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Seeing Red (The Importance of Brand esSense #8)

In Brand esSense I discuss the importance of distinctive brand assets and assert that the single most important one of them is colour. I open the book with the story of Cadbury’s battle for the right to their particular shade of purple, and more recently Nestle have spent much time and trouble trademarking the distinctive shape and format of KitKat.

And now it’s the turn of fashion icons. Christian Louboutin recently won an important legal battle to protect its distinctive red soles as a trademark. They had sued a rival Dutch firm for selling high-heeled shoes with scarlet soles, but under EU law companies cannot trademark “common shapes of products” such as the soles of shoes. However, the judges decided otherwise, stating that “A mark consisting of a color applied to the red sole of a shoe is not covered by the prohibition of the registration of shapes”.

The story of Christian Louboutin’s red shoes goes back to 1993, when he designed the first pair using an assistant’s red nail polish. The company are delighted stating that, “For 26 years the red sole has enabled the public to attribute the origin of the shoe to its creator”.

The lesson for all brands is that distinctive brand assets, and especially colours which are uniquely associated with one brand in a category, are a powerful way to simply and intuitively signal your brand and its values to customers, even without brand name, products or any other information. If you are a shoe and red, people know who you are and what that means to them.

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